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The Black Sun Press

Shelley Cox

…. Started in 1927 by Harry and Caresse Crosby (neé Polly Jacobs) Crosby, well-to-do young expatriates living in Paris, the Black Sun Press was created to publish its founders’ maiden (though not especially maidenly) attempts at verse in beautifully bound, hand set books. Dissatisfied with two earlier volumes, the Crosbys found Roger Lescaret, a "master printer" whose previous works had been primarily funeral notices, to print Harry’s poems in a fine edition. They were so delighted at the result, Red Skeletons, with illustrations by their friend Alastair [the professional name of Hans Henning von Voight], that they decided to found a press. In a typical combination of high ideals and deflating humor, it was first called Éditions Narcisse – after their black whippet, Narcisse Noir.

By the time the name was changed to the Black Sun Press, in mid-1928, the careers of both the Press and Harry Crosby were in high gear, but, as the change of name might indicate, Harry Crosby was heading for a collision. In the years following his escazpe from death in World War I, Harry Crosby had become increasingly obsessed with death, linking this into his own idiosyncratic worship of the sun, a glittering, yet black sun whose symbol and iconography dominated his writings and even his signature. (Although the Black Sun Press continued to publish the works of Caresse and of their friends, Harry’s contribution was his "sun" works – poetry, prose and art on the themes of sun, death, speed and blackness.)

In addition to the Crosby’s works, the Black Sun Press also published lavishly bound, typographically impeccable versions of unusual books covering their interest, "The Fall of the House of Usher," their Hindu Love Book, and letters to Harry’s cousin, Walter Berry, by Henry James. However, as their literary interests began to mature and their world to enlarge, they also published the works of their friends – D. H. Lawrence’s "The Sun" and "Escaped Cock" [sometimes reprinted under the title "The Man Who Died"], James Joyce’s "Tales Told of Shem and Shaun" [work later incorporated into Finnegans Wake], and Kay Boyle‘s short stories. In the climactic year, 1929, fourteen works were produced. And in December 1929 Harry Crosby died his sun-death in a suicide pact with a young Boston socialite.

From Shelley Cox, "Introduction: The Black Sun Press," ICarbS 3:2 (1977), 3-4.

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